Terrorism on Trial
The ideas of the 35,000-word manifesto sound dry and aloof, chilling only in the context of 17 years of periodic and deliberate violence, of widespread public fear and of individual lives changed forever.Skip to next paragraph
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The trial of the alleged "Unabomber" - with all its detailed evidence, legal arguments, and human drama - begins here today against a backdrop of concern over domestic terrorism in the United States.
The World Trade Center bombing trial and the second trial in the Oklahoma City bombing both continue. These seem to show that top-notch police work can solve such crimes. But neither act was prevented, and last year's bomb blast at the Atlanta Olympics remains unsolved. And it did take authorities many years to capture Theodore Kaczynski, the man authorities believe is responsible for 16 bombings that took three lives and injured another 23 people.
Despite this, experts generally agree that police and investigative agencies are doing well under the circumstances.
"I do think the government has been very competent and very efficient in its recent apprehensions," says Laurie Levenson, associate dean and professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles. "Still, there's so much that we don't know. It's a big country, and there are a lot of fringe people."
Among the improvements Ms. Levenson and others have observed:
* A shift in emphasis at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from simply racking up as many arrests and convictions as possible to greater emphasis on high-priority crimes, including domestic terrorism.
* More-refined responses to situations involving fringe groups. This was clear in the apprehension of the "Freemen" in Montana, following highly criticized episodes at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.
* Better ability to infiltrate radical antigovernment groups (such as the Viper militia in Arizona) that hoard and in some cases use illegal weapons and explosives.
Such infiltrations raise questions about civil liberties, however.
"There's a fine line here between what some on the left consider to be intrusions into lawful assembly and what others on the right say are legitimate efforts by the sovereign state to defend itself against terrorism," says former United States Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who now practices law in San Francisco.
But if you recognize that you have organizations in this country that are bent "on acts of domestic terrorism, you have to have the ability to proactively deal with that, not just reactively," he adds.
In the case of Mr. Kaczynski, infiltration would have been extremely difficult. The suspect was a recluse who apparently acted without accomplices and was not part of any extremist group.
The break in the case came when The Washington Post agreed to publish the 232-point manifesto attacking industrial society. The document's author had warned of more bombings if the newspaper refused. David Kaczynski, a social worker in Schenectady, N.Y., thought he recognized his estranged brother in the writings and went to authorities.
Now, as jury selection begins in US District Judge Garland Burrell's courtroom in Sacramento, Calif., the prosecution's legal arsenal seems formidable.
Kaczynski's small cabin in the mountains of Montana was filled with bomb-making materials and equipment, plus a partially completed pipe bomb, according to the FBI. Agents say they found the typewriter used to write the manifesto, as well as a draft of the document. And perhaps most damning, they also say they found a diary in which the bombings, the reasons for them, and targeted victims were detailed.
In the case being tried here, Kaczynski faces 10 charges related to the killing of two Sacramento men (a computer-store owner in 1985 and a timber-industry lobbyist 10 years later) and the injuring of scientists at Yale University and the University of California at San Francisco. He also faces charges in the bombing death of an advertising executive in New Jersey in 1994. The federal government is seeking the death penalty for the Sacramento killings.
Kaczynski - a Harvard-educated mathematician with a genius-level IQ who once taught at UC Berkeley - has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Beyond the mounds of physical evidence said to connect the defendant to the bombings, prosecutors also must prove that Kaczynski willfully intended to harm the persons to whom the bombs were mailed.
"They have to prove a particular mental state on the part of the defendant," says Linda Carter, a former trial attorney in the US Justice Department and former public defender who now teaches at the McGeorge School of Law here.